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Death of the Aussie ute

Why Aussies are ditching locally-made Holden and Ford utes in favour of imports from Thailand.

Australia invented the iconic ute and we’re buying them in record numbers -- but most now come from Thailand.

So much for sentimental value.

Australians are turning their backs on locally-made Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon utes in the lead-up to their extinction.

Instead, we’re buying imports from Thailand in record numbers -- in most cases without realising where the utes are made.

Sales of Commodore and Falcon utes hit record lows last year, as both models approach the end of the line.

Ford’s factory in Broadmeadows falls silent forever this October, and Holden’s assembly line in Elizabeth near Adelaide shuts in late 2017.

Both Ford and Holden have no plans to replace their Australian-made utes with models based on passenger cars such as the Falcon and Commodore.

Instead, Ford and Holden have embraced the massive shift in buyer tastes towards four-door 4WD pick-ups.

Many buyers are unaware that, despite the badges, the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger are made in Thailand

The Falcon versus Commodore ute battle has already been replaced by two new rivals.

The Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger are now the top sellers in the ute class.

Many buyers are unaware that, despite the badges, the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger are made in Thailand along with the Holden Colorado, Nissan Navara, Mitsubishi Triton, Mazda BT-50 and Isuzu D-Max.

Regardless of where they’re made, Aussies can’t get enough of them.

There is a six-month waiting list for the top-of-the-range Ford Ranger Wildtrak, despite its $60,000-plus price, and a three-month wait for the $55,000 flagship Toyota HiLux SR5.

The new Ford Ranger -- designed and engineered in Australia but made overseas -- has clawed back ground from the Toyota HiLux, the top-selling workhorse for more than three decades.

Ford is so close to overtaking the Toyota it has stopped its “challenger” advertisements that dared customers to take a HiLux for a test drive.

“Comparison advertising was helpful at the time, but the Ranger stands on its own now,” said Ford Australia spokesman Wes Sherwood.

“Buyers recognise it was designed and engineered for Australian conditions. Ute owners rely on their vehicles for their livelihood, and more capability means they can get more work done.”

Luxury brands Mercedes-Benz, Renault and Peugeot plan to get in on the ute action over the next two years.

Toyota Australia executive director of sales and marketing, Tony Cramb, said the company respects all competitors but HiLux is still market leader “by a substantial margin” and has “confidence in its on-going appeal and sales success”. Toyota HiLux sales are up so far this year, following the recent arrival of the first all-new model in 10 years.

Competition in the ute class is about to get even tougher, with an updated Holden Colorado due in showrooms in August.

Meanwhile, luxury brands Mercedes-Benz, Renault and Peugeot plan to get in on the ute action over the next two years.

This week US car giant Jeep confirmed it would introduce a Wrangler four-door pick-up by 2020.

The Jeep Wrangler ute can’t come soon enough. Local Jeep sales have tanked over the past 12 months and demand has halved so far this year, despite the booming SUV market.

How the Aussie ute died

In 2004, one year before the Free Trade Agreement with Thailand -- the biggest producer of pick-ups in the Asia-Pacific region -- Ford and Holden sold more than 40,000 Australian-made utes between them.

In 2015, just 2600 Ford Falcon utes and 4900 Holden Commodore utes were sold. The decline has continued into 2016.

In 2006, just one year after the Free Trade Agreement with Thailand, the Toyota HiLux overtook sales of Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon utes.

Imports of cars and utes from Thailand have almost tripled since the Free Trade Agreement was signed (from 84,000 in 2005, to 250,000 in 2015).

Utes are now the third biggest vehicle category behind small cars and SUVs

In return, Australia has exported just 100 Ford Territory SUVs to Thailand, in 2012.

The Toyota HiLux has been Australia’s favourite heavy-duty workhorse for more than three decades, the number one 4WD nationally for 11 years, and the best selling vehicle outright for the past seven years in Queensland, West Australia and the Northern Territory.

The Toyota HiLux has been in the Top Three sellers outright nationally for the past four years in a row.

The Ford Ranger has outsold the Toyota HiLux on three occasions over the past seven months, and has been Ford Australia’s top selling model since February 2014.

Utes are now the third biggest vehicle category behind small cars and SUVs.

Top 10 ute sales in 2016

Toyota HiLux: 9499
Ford Ranger: 8033
Mitsubishi Triton: 6104
Holden Colorado: 4335
Nissan Navara: 4277
Isuzu D-Max: 3892
Mazda BT-50: 3560
Volkswagen Amarok: 2358
Holden Commodore ute: 1163
Ford Falcon ute: 530
Source: Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, Jan-Mar 2016.

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